Traffic jams grow on Polish border, talks with strikers reported

( dpa ) - Massive traffic jams were growing at most roads exiting Poland's eastern border on Monday, amid reports of talks to end a Polish customs worker strike responsible for the chaos.

Polish government employees at checkpoints along Poland's frontier with Belarus, Ukraine, and the Russian province Kaliningrad kicked off wildcat strikes and other collective bargaining actions on Friday.

Queues at most heavily-used transit points were reported to number in excess as five hundred vehicles, requiring as many as three days to cross into or out of Poland.

"Things have not changed, we have seen no concrete steps to resolve the situation," said Aleksander Tishchenko, a Belarus government spokesman. "In fact, the queues are increasing in size."

The longest reported queue so far, at the Kozlovichi checkpoint along the Minsk-Warsaw highway on the Polish side of the border, stretched 60 kilometres on Monday morning, Tishchenko said, according to an Interfax news agency report.

Lorries at the Krakovets-Korchova checkpoint, on the Kiev-Krakow highway, numbered 800 vehicles on the Polish side and 660 on the Ukrainian side, with Polish border workers processing some 12 lorries an hour, according to a Ukraine border troops statement.

Strikes, collective sick leave, absenteeism, and processing documents at a snail's pace have been among the tactics employed by the Polish customs workers.

Private vehicles still were crossing the border freely at some locations, Tishchenko said, as the Polish customs officers appeared to be targeting freight lorries and their drivers for the artificial delays.

But rail traffic from Ukraine to Poland was clearly interrupted on Monday, with as many as 1,000 rail cars reported stacked up at crossing points.

The Ukrainian national railroad company Ukrzhelesnitsia on Saturday issued a warning traders shipping goods into Ukraine from Europe should avoid Poland completely, and route their freight through Slovakia.

Thousands of drivers stuck on the open road already were posing a health hazard to Belarusian border regions because of fumes from idling vehicles, and absence of trash facilities, said Anatoly Grishko, a Belarusian transport industry analyst.

"Already there a people that have been living out in the open for four days, and we now face the real danger of a disease outbreak if something is not done," Grishko said.

Aside from what they carried with them, the lorry operators had no food or medical supplies, he added.

The lorry drivers on the Ukrainian side were receiving food, shelter, and medical support organized by the Ukrainian government, the statement said in part.

The strike came in response to a refusal by the Polish government to improve working conditions for customs workers after Poland became a member of the Shengen Treaty at the beginning of 2008, which obliged Poland to enforce more complicated and strigent border rules.

The customs workers demand a monthly pay rise of 1,500 zloty (600 dollars) as well as earlier retirement and better protection from attacks.

Ukrainian media on Monday gave wide play to reports Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk would meet with representatives of the customs workers in the near future, in an attempt to resolve the conflict.

Strict EU rules regarding the processing of vehicles and persons exiting or entering its territory makes a quick fix unlikely, as Poland currently is not able to enforce EU standards at all its border checkpoints, Tusk said, according to a Korrespondent magazine report.

Irate drivers interviewed by reporters threatened to take their lorries to Warsaw and blockade the central government, if the dispute is not resolved quickly, according to a Deutsche Welle report.

Ukraine's customs service estimated the national income losses due to the Polish strike activities at some 8 million dollars daily.

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